Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Notebook: Despite Strong Backcourt Duo, Louisville Outmatches Eagles

Wednesday’s matchup against No. 6 Louisville marked Boston College men’s basketball’s first test against a ranked program since its thrilling upset victory over Virginia on Jan. 7. This matchup, however, did not go nearly as well for the Eagles (10-11, 4-6 Atlantic Coast), who were defeated by the Cardinals (18-3, 9-1), 86-69. 

This game was very different from the Eagles’ victory over Louisville in their previous meeting, which could be defined as a defensive showdown. This time, the Eagles’ offense came out firing right away in front of a packed student section. With a flurry of 3-pointers drained, the Eagles quickly gained momentum in the first half. With 12:06 to go in the half, the Eagles led 25-16—their largest lead of the night. But this lead quickly disintegrated as the Eagles found themselves down by two points going into the break. Louisville’s momentum carried into the second half, and BC eventually faced multiple double-digit deficits en route to the loss.

Below are some key takeaways from Wednesday’s defeat:

Louisville Star Jordan Nwora Could Not Be Stopped

Cardinals junior Jordan Nwora was easily the best player on the court in tonight’s game. The projected first-round draft pick completely dominated each of BC’s defenders, finishing only two points away from tying the record for the most points scored at Conte Forum by an opposing player, which was set by former UConn star Richard “Rip” Hamilton in both 1998 and 1999.

Nwora finished the night with 37 points, as he lit up the scoresheet with amazing play behind the arc. Each of his seven 3-pointers halted every spurt of BC momentum in the later stages of the first half and the entire second half. Even when the Eagles fouled the forward, he was nearly perfect from the line, draining eight of his nine free throw attempts.

“He got into a good rhythm,” said head coach Jim Christian, speaking about Nwora. “He is a great player. He doesn’t need much space. A couple of times we were right there, but just didn’t contest the shot high enough. He doesn’t need much room or space. That’s what great players do.”

Eagles Manhandled on the Boards

The size of Louisville was too much for the BC big men to handle. The Cardinals out-rebounded the Eagles 43-29, scoring many of their points off second- and even third-chance opportunities. On many occasions, the Eagles would make a key defensive stop but would fail to score in transition because they were unable to recover the defensive rebound.

Steffon Mitchell, who totaled nine rebounds on the night, was the only Eagle to finish near double-digit rebounds, while Louisville had three players with eight or more rebounds. 6-foot-11 forward Malik Williams grabbed 13 boards in under 22 minutes off the bench. If the Eagles had been able to corral more boards in the defensive zone, the game may not have become so out of reach. 

Second-Half Zone Defense Shuts Down the Eagles

Louisville head coach Chris Mack knew that he needed to make a change to stop the potent Eagles offense of the first half in order to avoid the upset. This change was to switch into a zone defense for the second half.

When asked about the switch in his postgame presser, Mack said, “[BC is] a difficult team to guard. … Our guys did a really good job of knowing where the shooters were, not panicking in the moment in the high post. And as time went on, we settled in on not giving up second and third shots. It just felt right.”

Mack’s halftime switch clearly stifled the Eagle offense, which only scored 26 points while committing seven turnovers in the final 20 minutes.

Eagles Continue To Struggle From the Line

In Saturday’s thrilling victory over Virginia Tech, the Eagles shot 41 percent from the line on 27 attempts, which marked their second-worst mark of the season. Though that percentage did improve in tonight’s game, the line continues to be a spot that troubles the Eagles’ scorers, who finished 14-22—63.6 percent—against the Cardinals.

“We had big opportunities at the foul line today and we didn’t convert,” said Christian. “You gotta make them when you have the opportunities. That’s the bottom line.”

Free-throw shooting hindered the Eagles’ performance, and this team full of talented players is capable of shooting much better—they shot 12 of 13 from the stride against Pittsburgh just two weeks ago.

BC Backcourt Duo Plays Well

In the tough defeat, the backcourt of Derryck Thornton and Jay Heath shined, particularly in the first half. Thornton displayed both his ability to penetrate the defense and hit from deep, as the graduate transfer from USC finished with 17 points on two 3-pointers. 

Heath continued his strong play from beyond the arc, shooting 40 percent or better from the deep for the third straight game. His clutch shots in the first energized the Eagles as BC took a nine-point lead. He finished the night with 16 points, 12 of which came from beyond the arc.

As this backcourt pair continues to improve their scoring abilities, the Eagles’ frontcourt needs to aid them in grabbing many more rebounds.

Featured Image by Kait Devir / Heights Staff

January 31, 2020